Qualitative Case Studies

Project Overview
State Self-Study Tools
State and Regional Policies
Assessment Policy Types and Models
Policy Development
Inventory of Instruments and Measurements
Data Collection and Analysis
Publications and Presentations



The primary objective of our case study research was to learn more about the impact of state policies and regional association standards on the assessment practices of postsecondary institutions and their academic programs. To do this we examined higher education assessment policies adopted and implemented during the past two decades by five state governments and three regional accreditation associations.

We examined the relationships of three levels: the state policies, the regional accreditation association standards, and the student assessment practices in affected colleges and universities. Research was centered around initial policy objectives, how the policies are implemented, and the resulting outcomes. The interactions among different policy levels is an important factor in the evolution of assessment practices and provides insight into why policies are either successful or produce different or unexpected outcomes.



Selection of Case Studies

The five states selected were Florida, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, and Washington. These states were selected based on three criteria: (1) the degree of higher education policy centralization in the state; (2) being located in one of the regions of our selected regional accreditation associations; and (3) the extent to which the state played a pioneering role in a particular area of assessment and/or accountability policy.

We sought states in different accreditation regions in order to examine the interaction of assessment policies, accreditation standards and criteria, and institutions. Florida and South Carolina are members of Southern Association; Missouri is a member of North Central; New York is a member of Middle States; and Washington is a member of the Northwest Association. States from the New England Association were not selected because state-mandated assessment activity in that region is very limited. The three accreditation associations included in this report are the Middle States Association, the Northwest Association, and the North Central Association.

In order to analyze the effects of centralization on assessment, we sought states with varied approaches to assessment. For our purposes, centralization was defined using several dimensions: higher education governance structure; the mechanism by which assessment is initiated (legislative statute, executive policy, or a combination of these); and the degree to which assessment indicators or outcomes are common across institutions. Florida has a consolidated governing board, assessment by statute, and common indicators. Missouri has a coordinating regulatory board with budget authority, assessment by combination of statute and policy, and mixed indicators. New York has a coordinating regulatory board with no statutory budget role, assessment by policy, and mixed indicators. South Carolina has a coordinating board with budget authority, assessment by statute, and common indicators. Washington has a coordinating board with budget review, assessment by policy, and varied indicators.




The case study site visits typically involved a two-day visit by our research team. The team consisted of NCPI personnel and external consultants who were familiar with state assessment policy issues. The team interviewed higher education policymakers and their key staff members who had been the most active in the areas of assessment and accountability in the state. The goal was to create an opportunity for dialogue about the history and important components of the assessment policy, and how it was being implemented and evaluated. The team was particularly interested in aspects such as the academic components, fiscal components, and governance of the policy, as well as the inter-relations that are involved among legislators, the executive branch, governor’s office, the Board of Education, and the colleges and universities. The team was also interested in how the state policy makers thought the policies influenced teaching and learning in the state’s colleges and universities.

The site visits involved meeting with the SHEEO Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Academic Officer, the Chief Fiscal Officer, the lead staff person for community and vocational institutions and for colleges and universities, the Chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees, key staff in the governor’s office, and any individuals or groups from institutions who are involved in assessment activity.



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Purpose of case study

Selection of Case studies

Case Study Methodology


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